Commentary

'WaPo' Was Wrong To Suspend Reporter Over Kobe Bryant Tweets

The Washington Post was wrong to suspend a reporter amid the backlash she faced for tweeting an old article about a rape case against Kobe Bryant, soon after the shocking news that the NBA legend had been killed in a helicopter crash.

The newspaper's decision undermines its responsibility to protect its editorial staff and their broader efforts to report on sexual abuse.

The controversy started on Sunday when national political reporter Felicia Sonmez sparked outrage on Twitter by sharing a three-year-old story by the Daily Beast. Instead of lionizing Bryant as he prepared to retire from a storied NBA career, the Daily Beast provided an exhaustive and disturbing look at one of the darkest periods in his adult life -- the criminal trial for allegedly raping a 19-year-old woman in 2003.

Sonmez's link to the story triggered a firestorm of criticism from people who were in the throes of mourning Bryant after gossip site TMZ broke the story that he had been killed in a helicopter crash. While thousands of people "liked" her tweet, many others flooded her Twitter account and work email with vitriolic remarks, including death threats, as Somnez recounted in follow-up tweets.

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“Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality, even if that public figure is beloved and totality unsettling,” Somnez wrote on Twitter.

Somnez later deleted her tweets about Bryant, including a screen grab she posted showing the name of a person who had insulted her by email. That tweet raised the ire of WaPo's management and led to her suspension for possible violations of Twitter's terms of service, Mediaite reported

If that's the case, it's a flimsy excuse to suspend a reporter — and shows all the signs of a feeble-minded corporatism that clouds the judgment of WaPo's editors. Any person who emails a reporter should assume the email can be made public — email doesn't confer any special privacy protections.

What's more worrisome is that Somnez received violent threats that included her home address, compelling her to stay at a hotel to avoid possible harm. WaPo should provide a security detail to protect her, as it does for other reporters who face threats of violence.

Sonmez also is a survivor of an alleged sexual assault that never resulted in criminal charges. In 2018, she accused Los Angeles Times Beijing bureau chief Jonathan Kaiman of sexual assault. He disputed her claim that the encounter was nonconsensual, but resigned after the LAT completed a four-month investigation into the incident.

WaPo should reinstate Somnez if she's willing to come back to a newspaper that hung her out to dry. She rightfully reminded people that Bryant wasn't a hero to everyone. To victims of sexual abuse, he's another example of a rich guy who got away with it.

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